A few months ago I wrote in this space that an upstart technology company called Solum had a bead on a soil testing breakthrough that would be a game changer in agriculture, That little news item generated enough interest in our humble blog that we termed it "blowing up" by our standards. Clearly, there's pent-up demand for a better way to test soil, and a whole lot of interest in an accurate and fast method for testing for nitrates.
This week the company announced its Series B funding round backed by Andreesen Horowitz. The $17 million infusion of cash will allow Solum to continue its expanding work on developing what it terms "advanced field measurements." In addition to its soil nitrate measurement tool, the company has been working on advancements in the measurement of other nutrients and field variables through improved technology.
To move this agenda along, the venture capital will be used to finish off a brand new measurement facility in Ames, IA that will be operational this fall, and to invest in scientists to keep the research and development moving along.
I got a chance to chat with Nick Koshnick, the co-founder and CEO of Solum, to get some insight on where things are headed. The company had largely been operating in the shadows, focusing on development and testing technology, until last year when it began putting its mobile nitrate soil lab technology -- No-Wait Nitrate -- through the paces with retailers and agronomic consultants. With testing that revealed a clear benefit in accuracy, Solum is now preparing for a more robust launch of its expanded field moist system later this year.
The system has the ability to run tests on "field-moist" soil samples, which do not require special handling or preparation prior to running a test. Field moist testing had been the gold standard for decades, but was abandoned in the 1980s because there was no efficient equipment for running a soil test on a field moist sample. There's a lot of excitement about No-Wait Nitrate, but Koshnick and his team are looking far beyond nitrogen testing toward a broader goal of providing "advanced field measurements" that look at a wide range of soil variables and how they interact -- with the ultimate goal of delivering more yield.
"As we looked at measuring soil variables, we realized the scope of the soil analysis problem is both fascinating and tremendous," says Koshnick. "It is a multi-variable problem. And as agriculture takes the next step to increase yields, combining these layers is something that needs to be done. We feel that there needs to be a better platform and better data if we are going to optimize the system and get the yields impacts out.”
Solum seems to have the right approach to development and investment, including an openness to partner with other ag companies where it makes sense. We'll be following the company very closely through 2012 as it starts in earnest to engage the ag market.